UMAction Briefing Homepage Mark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy



March 8, 2001

United Methodism’s finance agency has decided there is insufficient evidence to charge a United Methodist magazine with having violated a church prohibition against pro-homosexuality advocacy.

The November/December 2000 issue of Christian Social Action, published by The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, included at least10 articles that in some way affirmed the practice of homosexuality. One other article examined homosexuality from an academic perspective without specifically taking sides. No articles defended The United Methodist Church’s official stance that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The text of the church’s official teaching on homosexuality was published, without comment, as a sidebar.

Paragraph 806.9 in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church declares that no church agency may “give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.” The Discipline gives The United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) the responsibility to enforce this provision.

Several years ago, for example, GCFA compelled United Methodist Communications to refund general church funds that had been spent on a video called “Adam and Steve.”

After a complaint was filed with GCFA last November, the Paragraph 806.9 Review Team of GCFA responded on March 1 that it believed Christian Social Action had not violated church law. Instead, the review team found that the magazine had “focused on the life stories and experiences of homosexual persons and their families.” Since the church is called to be in ministry with homosexuals, the Review Team concluded that it would be difficult to provide that ministry without “insight into their experiences, especially the more painful ones.”

The Review Team’s response came in the form of letters from GCFA’s President, Bishop Alfred Norris of Houston, to Jim Winkler, who is General Secretary of the Board of Church and Society, and to three leaders of United Methodist renewal groups who had filed the complaint against the Christian Social Action.

In his letter, Bishop Norris reported that the review team “found it helpful” to know that Christian Social Action had declined to publish an article that openly called for “disobedience” against the church’s stance. This rejection “added credibility” to the magazine’s assurance to GCFA that it “was not promoting the acceptance of homosexuality.”

Bishop Norris did tell Winkler in his letter that the review team was “concerned” about the cover of Christian Social Action. That cover showed a scale, on one side of which was a church with a sign saying, “Some are Welcome.” On the scale’s other side was a circle of people carrying a banner proclaiming, “All Welcome.” The cover asks, “Which Church Honors Jesus?”

The review team found this cover to be “unnecessarily inflammatory,” according to Bishop Norris. But the review team also decided the cover related to “hospitality and ministering to homosexual persons rather than the church’s position on homosexuality.” The review team asked the Board of Church and Society to be “sensitive” to the “diverse views of the denomination” and to the official positions of the church.

That particular issue of Christian Social Action was produced by a guest editor, the Rev. Harry Keily, who is a pro-homosexuality activist in the denomination’s Baltimore-Washington Conference. In his introduction to the magazine, Keily lamented that The United Methodist Church has been “discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.” He called pro-homosexuality demonstrators a “gift” to the church. And he expressed his hope that the church would “receive with joy the riches they are bestowing upon our communities of faith.”

According to Keily, the magazine was “dedicated to those voices the church has not been able to silence.” He thanked the editor of Christian Social Action, Erik Alsgaard, for his “courage and generosity” in opening the magazine to “our writers.” Those writers were, almost uniformly, the leaders of the pro-homosexuality groups that The Discipline says may not be funded.

In another short introduction, Alsgaard explained that this particular issue of the magazine was “unusual,” because never before have “sexual minorities - gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons - experienced a greater sense of their status as the least among those in The United Methodist Church.” Alsgaard seemed to assume that because the church has refused to bless non-marital sexual behavior, it is therefore an oppressor of “sexual minorities.”

“No attempt has been made in this issue to offer theological weight or a balance of opinions,” Alsgaard admitted. “While that may seem unfair, fairness and justice are not the same matter…” He explained he wanted to give a forum to “those without voice.” The irony is that promoters of homosexuality already have a disproportionately loud voice within United Methodist agencies and throughout secular culture. Defenders of traditional Christian sexual morality are more typically silenced or ignored, as they were in Christian Social Action.

The first article was by the Rev. Greg Dell of Chicago, who was suspended from the pastorate for conducting a same-sex union in his United Methodist church. As Dell admits, pro-homosexuality activists, both “queer” and straight, were asking not for toleration but for “affirmation” from the church. Dell called for creation of a new “professing church” movement that would “aggressively” recruit activists to work for the legitimization of homosexual behavior within the church.

The second pro-homosexuality article was authored by Floyd Starnes, who, with his male lover, has adopted two children. “I don’t have any extra time and energy to devote to an institution that doesn’t see my worth,” he complained about The United Methodist Church. Although he recalled no condemnation in the church where he grew up, he did recall silence about the possibility of two men “being in love.” He interpreted that silence as “subtle” condemnation.

Starnes’ parents wrote the third article, which lamented that The United Methodist Church regards their son as “abnormal.” They especially criticized the “hypocrisy” of the church’s stance for punishing “out-of-the-closet” homosexuals in the ministry. The “truth” of their son’s homosexuality has strengthened their family, they wrote, and that same truth could strengthen the church, “if only we would let it.”

In his article, the Rev. James Lawson likened opposition to homosexuality to racial segregation. First published in the newsletter of Affirmation, a pro-homosexuality advocacy group within United Methodism, Lawson’s article claimed that “only a handful of folks” are manipulating the church away from affirming homosexuality. He did not explain the over two to one margins by which the church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage was upheld by last year’s General Conference. Instead, Lawson complained that a small minority is moving the church towards a “new-style Jim Crow law.”

In another article penned by Harry Kiely, opponents of homosexual practice were compared to conservatives who staged a “successful coup” to capture the Southern Baptist Convention. Specifically Kiely condemned three United Methodist renewal organizations: Good News, the Confessing Movement, and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. These groups were accused of fostering an “atmosphere of fear” within the church through their opposition to homosexuality. Kiely urged “rank-and-file” United Methodists to “resist the destructive tendencies of hatred” that have resulted in the church’s anti-homosexuality teachings.

Marilyn Alexander of Reconciling Congregations, a pro-homosexuality caucus group within United Methodism, wrote an article called “Harvesting the Fruits of Intolerance.” She lamented that last year’s General Conference, by two-thirds margins, voted “repeatedly to dishonor and dismember a part of the Body of Christ,” and by so doing, advocated “turning away from the love of God and neighbor.” The United Methodist Church has “made it very clear that LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, bisexual and Transgender] people are not wanted nor welcome in our denomination,” she claimed.

Still another pro-homosexuality caucus group was represented in Christian Social Action. Kathryn Johnson of the Methodist Federation for Social Action lamented the United Methodist Church’s exclusion of “sexual minorities.” And she feared that “conservative movements” in the church will employ this exclusion to advocate adherence to a “very specific understanding of Christian doctrine.” Johnson charged that the church’s refusal to bless homosexuality is a “major violation” of John Wesley’s admonition to “think and let think.”

Another pro-homosexuality advocacy group is the Parents Reconciling Network, two of whose members wrote an article for Christian Social Action. They recalled their lobbying last year’s General Conference to change the church’s stance that sexual behavior should be confined to heterosexual marriage. They likened the church’s opposition to homosexuality to earlier support for “slavery, racism, and the male-only pulpit.” And they predicted that more churches will recommend “GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] people” for “eventual ordination,” even though United Methodism prohibits the ordination of practicing homosexuals into the ministry.

In her article, Karen Oliveto, who formerly chaired Reconciling Congregations, defiantly declared that General Conference votes and Judicial Council decisions “will not intimidate us.” Despite an “inhospitable denomination,” she vowed that, “We will find creative ways to celebrate the many forms love takes.” Oliveto boasted that her organization honors “communities that include diverse sexual orientations, expressions, and family arrangements.”

Gayle Felton, who currently chairs Reconciling Congregations, wrote an article that favorably reviewed five books written about homosexuality, all of them by authors who favor church blessing of homosexual practice. The authors include pro-homosexuality advocates such as Tex Sample, Walter Wink, Bruce Hilton, and Marilyn Alexander. Felton exulted that the books “challenge assumptions and motivate action.” She did not cite any books that support the church’s position on marriage and sexuality.

In the only article that declines to endorse homosexuality, Stephen Charles Mott did not specifically endorse the church’s position. But he asked whether dismissing Old Testament passages that condemn homosexual acts might also undercut the authority of other Scripture passages that call for social justice. Mott, who is a Massachusetts pastor, recalled that John Wesley believed the Book of Leviticus contained “many excellent moral precepts.”

Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the Board of Church and Society, penned a brief column for Christian Social Action that acknowledged the Discipline’s prohibition against funding for homosexuality advocacy. “Do not make the mistake as you read this magazine that that is our intention,” he insisted. Winkler did not explain why readers should hesitate to draw that conclusion.

Last year Christian Social Action was circulated to 2,000 households at an annual cost of $62,000. Six staff persons are involved in the magazine’s publication, involving 168 staff hours per issue. The Board of Church and Society voted last year to increase that circulation to 50,000, raising the annual cost of publication to $170,000.

The GCFA Review Team that decided Christian Social Action was not promoting homosexuality included Bishop Norris; Lucille Dockery of Hyde Park, New York; J. Diane Knudsen of West Sacramento, CA; Mathew Avary Pinson of Rome, GA; and Barbara Ulman of West Bloomfield, MI. Each of the five jurisdictions of the U.S. church has a representative. There is no overseas representation.

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